Is this the strangest collaboration of 2022 so far? Zenith X Phillips X Kari Voutilainen Is this the strangest collaboration of 2022 so far? Zenith X Phillips X Kari Voutilainen

Is this the strangest collaboration of 2022 so far? Zenith X Phillips X Kari Voutilainen

Zach Blass

Precision chronometry is the ultimate test of any manufacture’s mettle. To win and set records at Observatory competitions not only results in a highly coveted award for a manufacture, but also a highly coveted timepiece for collectors to acquire. Herein lies what makes the Zenith calibre 135-0 so legendary in the world of horology. From 1950 – 1954, the calibre 135-0 won the competition five years in a row – a feat unheard of and unmatched by other manufactures to this day. It also stands as the most awarded calibre in the history of watchmaking, with over 230 chronometry prizes to its name. But Zach… this is in the past. What does it have to do with my collection? Well, Zenith has teamed up with master watchmaker Kari Voutilainen and premiere auction house Phillips to present a unique and enticing offering for mega-collectors around the world by pulling ten 135-0 calibres from their archives, all of which belong to the “serially winning” years of 1950 -1954, and casing them in a modern wristwatch.

Restoring the calibre 135-0 was no easy feat

Each of the 10 movements selected to be cased were awarded prizes within the 1st category range, and had all been regulated by celebrated Zenith chronométriers Charles Fleck & René Gygax. This very pair of watchmakers worked on the prize-winning movements five years in a row, leading Zenith to cement their reputation as a leader in precision chronometry.

Over the course of a year, Voutilainen and his team meticulously restored and decorated these vintage calibres. It was a tall order, one not to be accepted lightly, considering the little room for error. There were only the ten calibres to work with, to make a mistake on one would have lessened the production run. Zenith explains: “Tasking Kari Voutilainen with the restoration and finishing of these historical movements elevated them from raw competition pieces to haute horlogerie creations of the highest order.”

It is already hard enough to decorate a calibre to haute horologie standards, an artform which takes many years to truly master. But, to do so without damaging the integrity of its Observatory regulation takes things to a whole other level. After all, the centerpiece of this limited edition offering is the preservation of the original regulation and fine-tuning of the movements by Fleck and Gygax. Kari Voutilainen explains: “The persons working on these movements were the best watchmakers at the time. They had the know-how to make things precise. That precision doesn’t disappear after 70 years. Our duty was not to touch that performance.” So, even facing this challenge, Voutilainen and his team adorned the ten calibre 135-0 they were sent with meticulous traditional hand-finishing which includes hand chamfered and polished edges on the gold-coloured bridges, bevelled and polished screw-heads, circular graining on the main plate, snailed brushing on the ratchet and crown wheels, and more. The result is a distinguished calibre, elevated to a level of decoration it never knew – yet its essence maintained in regard to level of functionality.

The Zenith Calibre 135 Observatoire Limited Edition is born

Zenith calibre 135

The watch these ten calibres ultimately find themselves in is the Zenith Calibre 135 Observatoire Limited Edition, designed to reflect Zenith watches of the 50’s when the calibres where originally manufactured. As a precious and prized offering, it is fitting the watch has been cased in noble platinum 950. Considering the era of the calibre’s manufacture, it is also fitting that the Zenith Calibre 135 Observatoire Limited Edition carries more compact proportions with a diameter of 38mm, a thickness of 10.35mm, and a wrist-friendly lug-to-lug of 46.5mm. The 30 metre water-resistant case is handsomely finished, a rich brush found on the case flanks and caseband and its bezel and lugs executed in a full mirror finish.

Zenith calibre 135

Voutilainen also brought his signature dial work to the offering. Its black sterling silver dial is elevated with hand-guilloche on the outer perimeter, performed by Kari Voutilainen’s Comblémine atelier in a fish-scale motif. On this outer ring you will find highly faceted and finished triangular applied indices made of rhodium-plated German silver. As you move inward, the central medallion has a grained texture, sensible for a vintage-inspired release, and, within it, an oversized and concentrically textured running seconds register at the 6′ position. Printed on this register, you have the movement’s serial number – a piece of history to be enjoyed on the dial-side. The dauphine style hands in the center signal the hours and minutes, made of exquisitely polished white gold.

Zenith Calibre 135 Observatoire Limited Edition pricing and availability:

Zenith calibre 135

The ten Zenith Calibre 135 Observatoire Limited Edition watches will be sold exclusively through Phillips. The watch will be delivered in a wooden box crafted from walnut wood with brass fasteners, inspired by the containers in which the chronometry competition calibres were transported from the Zenith Manufacture to the Neuchâtel Observatory when competing for a first prize at the time. Furthermore, within the wooden box is a book-shaped leather box containing the watch as well as the original historical wooden transport box for the movement. Price: CHF 132,900

Brand Zenith (in collaboration with Kari Voutilainen and Phillips)
Model Calibre 135 Observatoire Limited Edition
Reference 40.1350.135/21.C1000
Case Material Platinum 950
Case Dimensions 38mm x 10.35mm x 46.5mm
Water-Resistance 30m
Dial Sterling silver dial with black matte finishing
Strap 19mm black calfskin leather with white gold pin buckle
Movement Calibre 135-0
Power Reserve 40 hours
Complications Hours, minutes, seconds
Availability Now, limited edition of 10 pieces
Price CHF 132,900